Sunday, August 19, 2012

Two shakes of a dog's tail: Gyro locomotion of animal skin

What if scientists took the same tools they use to analyze how horses walk, trot, canter and gallop and turned it to how they use their bodies?

Forget the legs and hooves (or paws).

Most mammals have a quantity of loose skin that they can move. That looseness gives the skin a locomotion all its own and now scientists are measuring it and trying to understand how and why animals are able to shake as much as 70 percent of liquid off their bodies.

It's not a linear locomotion; it's a gyro, or rotational movement around the animal's axial skeleton.

It's a good thing they can do it. If they couldn't, chances are the water would freeze, and they might get hypothermia, according to David Hu, PhD at Georgia Tech University. Or maybe the weight of the water would slow them down in their hunting--or fleeing from being hunted.

It's a shame the study doesn't include an analysis of horses shaking. I think they do more of a whole-body shudder than a rotational loose-skin shake like a dog or other mammals. Maybe it has something to do with the way they can involuntarily twitch their skin to get rid of a fly. Their shake is powerful but unique, I think.

And horses shake off dust as well as water. Shaking is all part of rolling.

This weekend, media like CNN aired segments with commentator Jeannie Moos plugging humor into the research, including an interview with Dr. Hu at Georgia Tech via Skype, who was previously featured on ABC's Good Morning America:

Read the abstract of Dr. Hu's paper. Visit the web site for Dr. Hu's lab at Georgia Tech. Before he became fascinated with shaking dogs, he researched how mosquitoes fly in the rain.

Click to go to easy ordering page; this poster can soon be hanging on your wall!

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